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BREE'S BLOG: In The Wake of the Fitzgerald

In an ice storm, a tugboat to the rescue!

The high winds and waves continued outside the harbor. As I hunkered down in my own 20-foot sloop, Persistence, waiting out the storm. I was haunted by memories of the steam-powered Edna G. out there. A fisherman had gone out one January morning and had not returned by evening. Darkness had fallen. His family was worried: Lake Superior was in the grips of a northeaster blow and 15 foot seas were running. The temperature was 5 degrees above zero. Capt. Ojard got steam up and the Edna G. charged out through the Two Harbors breakwaters in the blackness. "There was quite a sea on," he told me. "We fought high waves and wind. My radar didn't work in the snow. " He tried to reach him by radio, but all he heard was a click. Finally, he figured things out: "Frank, if you can hear me, click your button twice." "I heard two clicks," Capt. Ojard said. "His battery was nearly gone, not enough to transmit his voice. But we got his clicks." Now the problem became one of finding him, so he turned on his searchlight. "Frank," the wily tugboat captain said, "when the searchlight is on you, click your button twice again." When the lost fisherman saw the light, he clicked his receiver twice and the tugboat captain knew what course he was on. Finally the Edna G fought its way to the lost fisherman. The fishing boat had been drifting all day, without power. "He had all sorts of garbage out as a sea anchor," Capt. Ojard told me, "fish crates, five gallon buckets -- anything to hold the bow into the wind and keep him off the rocks." The Edna G. worked its way to him. "Nice to see you," the fisherman said. But that was the end of the pleasantries. The tugboat captain said, "He had a covered steel fishing boat and wouldn't leave her." Finally, the fisherman crawled up on the ice-coated bow and pulled over the line that the tugboat tossed him." The Edna G. towed him in. They had rescued him only a few miles from a storm-swept beach. It had been that close.
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